03/22/2004 1:00AM

Casino Red runs for hot barn

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Trainer William Connelly is making an impact in his first meet at Oaklawn Park. He has picked his spots judiciously and is winning with 20 percent of his starters. Connelly can continue his run Wednesday, with Casino Red in the featured eighth race.

Casino Red faces six others in the entry-level allowance, to be run over six furlongs. The purse is $32,000.

Other top contenders include Soo Much, who moves back to the allowance ranks after winning a pair of claiming races; Shiny Meadow, who returns to the distance of his last win; and Fred and Me.

Casino Red was third at this condition in his last start, when he finished four lengths behind the impressive Wildatbest on March 5. Casino Red earned an 82 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest last-race number in the field Wednesday.

"I thought he was probably a work short," said Connelly.

Casino Red, who has worked four furlongs since the race, was making his first start since finishing fourth to Champali in the $50,000 Turfway Park Prevue in January 2003.

Following the Prevue, Casino Red was sidelined with a knee injury. In his comeback, he settled in a stalking position early. But Casino Red has also fared well on the front end, such as when he won his maiden in a statebred race at Thistledown in Ohio.

"He'll do whatever you want," said Connelly. "I think eventually he'll want to run a route of ground. I hope so. I hope he'll stretch out."

Connelly is familiar with Casino Red's family.

"I had his mother, and she could really run," he said. "She was a nice mare."

Connelly also trained Casino Red's half-sister Amarata, who is a two-time stakes winner of $88,150. Casino Red is by Banker's Gold, who is a son of Forty Niner.

John McKee, who rode Casino Red in his last start, has the return call Wednesday.

Connelly brought 10 horses to Oaklawn this meet. One of the best horses he has developed here is Cahill Holly, who won her second race of the meet in an allowance Friday.

"I wouldn't mind stretching her out at some point," said Connelly. "I may even look into the grass at some point in time."

Following the meet, Connelly will race at Churchill Downs.

Soo Much comes into the feature on the heels of two sharp wins.

Fred and Me exits the same race as Casino Red, having finished fourth, three lengths behind Casino Red.